The commercial health of the downtown core in Charlottetown is going to be the subject of meetings sometime this year.
The Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce intends to organize and host a 2014 Summit on the Future of the City's Downtown, particularly the city core.
Partners that will be at the table include Downtown Charlottetown Inc. (DCI), the City of Charlottetown, Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC), the province and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
The goals will be to review progress over the last 10 years, celebrate success, benchmark success against other similar jurisdictions, identify best practices, identify weaknesses and gaps in strategy and programming, consider things like vacancy rates, housing quality and affordability and identify specific changes in strategy and programming that, going forward will advance the commercial base in the downtown.
"There are some vacant properties downtown still, some areas that can and certainly be redeveloped," said Keith O'Neill, president of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce. "The concern from the chamber's perspective, and maybe from the city's perspective, is we don't want to let this momentum we have die."
According to the Canadian Urban Institute, there's been a surge in new office space with the vacancy rate citywide increasing to nearly 15 per cent in 2012, increasing steadily by 1.2 per cent annually since 2008.
"The downtown has a new opportunity to renovate and update the existing stock of aging office space making the buildings more attractive to employers and thereby potentially helping to reduce the high vacancy rate," the institute said in a report released about six months ago.
Companies like Invesco and Ceridian are relatively new to the landscape while the Homburg Financial Tower opened in 2010, landlord Chris Tweel is fixing up the old Sam the Record Man building and APM is breathing new life into the Kays Building.
As for commercial space, there have been upgrades to the interior and exterior of the Confederation Court Mall in 2008 and a new pedestrian pedway constructed to Confederation Centre of the Arts. In 1998, CADC, the city and local merchants pumped $250,000 to transform Victoria Row into a pedestrian-only street in the summer months.
Still, there are and likely always will be scattered empty spots. The mall has a vacancy on the Kent Street side ground floor and the Queen Street Outlet closed just after Christmas, just to name two examples.